Does the MIND Diet Boost Your Memory?
A recent study shows that eating well can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to one-third.
The MIND diet mixes parts of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets to form the Mediterranean-DASH Diet Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet.
MIND focuses on foods with the most direct brain benefits and shuns foods that promote early aging; it recommends 10 brain-boosting foods to love and five brain bashers to limit.
Roxanne B. Sukol, MD, MS, offers her perspective.
Love these brain boosters:
- Contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help your brain function well.
- “Fish eat phytoplankton,” says Dr. Sukol, “which are rich in nutrients that reduce inflammation in both your brain and everywhere in your body. “You are what you eat, and you are what ‘what-you-eat’ eats.”
- Choline (in egg yolks), a B vitamin, contributes to healthy brain function.
- Poultry is a source of nourishing protein, though Dr. Sukol warns that meat from animals fed an industrial diet is best left at the supermarket. “Eat the highest quality protein you can afford,” she says. “Even if that means less animal protein overall.”
- Olive oil
- Nourishing fats lower your risk of dementia.
- “High-quality olive oil with a sprinkle of lemon juice makes a tasty salad dressing without any of the junk you find in most prepared dressings,” says Dr. Sukol.
- Wine (Yes, wine!)
- We don’t know why, but drinking small amounts of wine (5 ounces/day) is associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
- “It may be because a little alcohol improves insulin sensitivity to reduce your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure,” says Dr. Sukol.
- Green leafy vegetables
- “These are chock full of vitamins and phytonutrients that are so important for brain health,” says Dr. Sukol. “Hidden in these dark greens is a rainbow of color that the human eye can’t see. And color means nutrition.”
- Other vegetables
- “Variety is very important. Each color represents a different phytonutrient, and each phytonutrient is a building block for good health. Vegetables are a major source of color in our diets,” says Dr. Sukol.
- Vegetables are packed with different vitamins that work together to help your brain stay healthy as you age.
- Nuts are an important source of good fats. Fatty acids are crucial building blocks for brain function. “Each food has a slightly different nutrient profile, so mix up your healthy fat sources for optimal benefit,” says Dr. Sukol.
- Berries are full of flavor, but they don’t spike your blood sugar.
- “Fruits have many health benefits, and berries are a concentrated source of the phytonutrients that act as antioxidants and boost brain health,” says Dr. Sukol.
- “Beans are rich in both protein and fiber,” says Dr. Sukol. “We need to eat more of this abundant, flavorful, inexpensive and underappreciated food.”
- Whole grains
- Dr. Sukol says that some people find they must limit grain intake to maintain their weight and to keep blood sugars in the normal range. “Nevertheless, if grains are part of your diet, they should always be whole grains.”
Limit these brain bashers:
- Red meats (beef and pork)
- Studies have shown that eating red meat increases inflammation, which may speed memory loss.
- Butter and stick margarine
- “A small amount of high-quality butter is okay on occasion,” says Dr. Sukol, “but avoid margarine and products made with soybean, corn or cottonseed oils, all of which are all sky high in omega-6 fatty acids.”
- Omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation throughout our brains and bodies.
- Limit cheese to small amounts of higher-quality products, such as from grass-fed animals.
- Pastries and sweets
- “If it’s your birthday, sure. But these items entertain, they don’t nourish,” says Dr. Sukol. “Baking at home with whole-grain flour, dark chocolate, fruit and oats – that’s different. Most store-bought treats contain stripped carbs and pro-inflammatory oils which spike blood sugars and waste your insulin. This is associated with an increased risk of dementia.”
- Deep-fried or fast food
- Both are built from stripped carbs and inflammatory oils. “Watch the words: fast food isn’t food; it’s fast. Junk food isn’t food; it’s junk. If you have to qualify it, it’s usually not food,” says Dr. Sukol.
Overall, Dr. Sukol says the MIND diet is based on sound science and offers helpful guidelines for a healthy diet.
Best of all? Moderation counts: the MIND diet offers brain benefits even when you don’t follow it to the letter.